The Land of Smiles

Sarah Freeman on 27 August 2023
Historically known as Siam, Thailand is centrally located in South East Asia and is bordered by Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia After being given a place on the Travel Counsellors Gold Trip which is awarded to the top performing travel agents, I was keen to extend my stay to see as much as possible of this diverse country My 12 day itinerary allowed me to visit 5 key destinations, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khao Sok and Khao Lak, taking me from bustling cities to the dense jungle and finally to golden beaches. Travelling around Thailand is really easy, their domestic flights are extensive, trains, metros and buses are efficient and tuk tuks or cabs are easy to secure, and with English widely spoken and signs in both Thai and English in the major tourist areas you can’t go far wrong. Bangkok is the main getaway and while it can get a seedy rap, I loved exploring the busy capital. I stayed in the Banyon Tree Hotel with a gorgeous rooftop pool and easy access to the main attractions. Don’t miss sights include The Grand Palace and the beautiful temples of Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun which is across the river and easily accessible by the local ferry. If shopping is more your style, you will be spoilt for choice with huge malls sitting side by side local street vendors. Food lovers you’ll soon realise Pad Thai is just one of 100’s of delicious local dishes – but watch out for the number of chillis as your tongue can soon go numb! If you want to escape the city for a day and get out into the countryside, I can recommend a visit to the Meaklong Railway Market where the vendors have to pull back their goods 8 times as day as the train passes through and Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, where you take to a paddle boat and weave through a myriad of waterways where the locals sell all manner of goods direct from their boats. Chiang Mai and its smaller neighbour Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand are a short 1hr 30 minute flight. Located in the mountain region, Chaing Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom until 1558. I stayed in the Old City in one of the many cute boutique hotels. Known for its infamous night and weekend street markets and Thai boxing stadiums, the city also has a plethora of stunning temples, including Wat Chedi Luang dating back to 1385 with its 80m high chedi, the immaculate golden Wat Phra Singh and Wat Sri Suphan completely covered in solid and painted silver. For a fascinating cultural day trip head north to the Chaing Dao natural cave temple and visit some of the local tribes like the infamous Karen Longnecks to learn about their way of life. Next I flew down south to Phuket Island, a mountainous island Phuket offers some of the finest beaches along its 90 miles of coastline combined with lively towns. I was staying at the new Melia Phuket Mai Khao a short 15 minutes from the airport and known for its serenity and wellness programs, perfect if you want to get away from it all. For my fourth stop I wanted to experience Thailand’s rainforest so headed into the Khao Sok National Park to Elephant Hills, a luxury tented jungle camp for 2 nights. This animal welfare and sustainable camp is all about taking care of rescued elephants and educating people about these gentle giants. In addition they offer unique nature activities from mangrove explorations to kayaking and jungle treks and offer one of the only floating tented camps in the world. After all the excitement of jungle life, my final destination was the luxurious beach retreat, the Devasom Khao Lak. Built between the natural lagoon on one side and the stunning sandy beach on the other, this beautiful boutique hotel with Michelin star restaurant, a whole program of local experiences from cooking classes to sound bathing, features fabulous accommodation including the jaw dropping Two Bedroom Sky Villa Pool Penthouse. Thailand is the perfect beach stay destination, but also offers so much more!